Jimmie Shaw was out spraying crops Monday on his farm, hoping the harvest turns out better than it fared last October.
When historic rainfall hit the state, water-logging crops, Shaw lost about 60 percent of his cotton crop. To help offset that loss, Shaw and other S.C. farmers are counting on $40 million in state aid overwhelmingly approved by lawmakers.
“There are a lot of people, especially down in the Pee Dee and along the coast – those guys really need some help,” Shaw said.
But on Monday, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed that farm aid, saying the money would be an “unprecedented bailout for a single industry affected by last year’s flooding.”
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The state spending for farmers – a “vocal industry” – would be unfair to other sectors that also suffered from the flood and are not receiving any state support, she said in her message accompanying the veto.
However, Haley’s veto may not stick.
The state House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the farm aid by bipartisan veto-proof majorities. Two legislative leaders said Monday they expect lawmakers to override Haley’s veto, sending the relief to the farmers who make up one of the state’s largest industries.
House Ways and Means Committee chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, said he is disappointed in Haley’s “rhetoric,” adding she decries a bailout for farmers but supports spending millions to entice corporations to relocate or expand in the state.
“She's OK handing it out to industry coming in, whether it's tires or automotive or airplanes,” but not to farmers whose families have been the “backbone of the farming industry” for generations, he said.
“We voted strongly already to pass the bill,” White said. “I sincerely hope that we'll override it as early as tomorrow (Tuesday).”
“This is a segment of our population and our economy that has suffered tremendously,” said Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, also hopeful lawmakers will override the governor’s veto. “To deny them aid when we can provide it to them is traumatic.”
“I would be surprised if the votes aren’t there to override (Haley’s veto),” Setzler said.
Three state senators and six state representatives voted against the farm package, including state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort.
Davis said he opposed the bill because the farming industry “already receives a vast amount of taxpayer support” through federally subsidized crop insurance and commodity payments. But, Davis added, “The 2015 disaster spared no one in its path. ... In its wake, it not only left many individuals out of a home, it left many businesses ... out of business.”
The agriculture industry was no exception, Davis said. However, he said he opposed the farm-aid bill because the farming industry “already receives a vast amount of taxpayer support” through federally subsidized crop insurance and commodity payments.
S.C. Farm Bureau president Harry Ott said he was “terribly disappointed” by Haley’s veto of aid, which, he said, could help farmers recoup some their $376 million in direct losses related to the rainfall and flooding. When counting the impact to other agriculture-related businesses, the losses are higher, Ott said.
“I was holding out hope, all the way to the end, that she would basically carry through with her promises that she made earlier that she would always have the farmers’ back and help them get through this tough time.”
However, in her veto message, Haley challenged the idea that farmers “will not survive another year without a cash bailout.”
“This is simply not true,” she said, noting “many federal resources” available year-round to farmers.
But Ott, a former Democratic state representative, said farmers do not have access to the same federal support programs as homeowners and small businesses. Some farmers have emergency loans they have applied for that still have not come through, he added.
Meanwhile, farmers are “trying to make arrangements to buy fertilizer and seed to get crops in the ground,” he said.
“I'm all for small businesses as well,” said Newberry farmer Shaw, a partner at Overbridge Farms. “They need to have a vibrant economy ... to succeed as well. But the difference in the farmers, in my mind, is we've got one shot to make that crop for our livelihood. We can't go plant soybeans again in November and hope to make that money up. ...
“We need this money not to pay off debt. We need this money to keep operating. We need this money to grow our next crop, to get us back on our feet.”
SC flood aid to farmers
Lawmakers in the House and Senate passed a bill that would send $40 million in state money to S.C. farmers who lost crops in October’s record rainfall and flooding.
40 percent: Amount of loss farmers must have incurred on a crop to qualify for a state grant
$376 million: Estimated damage to S.C. crops due to October’s record rainfall and flooding
95-6: House vote passing the farm-aid package
33-3: Senate vote passing the bill
Two-thirds: Number of legislators present and voting in the House and Senate who must vote in order to override Haley’s veto